ATLANTA — The 23-year-old charged in the 2021 spa shooting rampage that killed eight people across metro Atlanta appeared virtually in a Fulton County courtroom Thursday afternoon.
Robert Aaron Long appeared via Zoom for a status conference in his death penalty case. Chief Judge Ural Glanville, who is occupied with the upcoming YSL gang trial, said he would try to set aside four days in May for a series of motions hearings in the case.
“I’m kind of covered up,” Glanville said, referring to the sweeping RICO case against Atlanta rapper Young Thug and 13 of his alleged “Young Slime Life” associates. Day 2 of jury selection was held Thursday in that case, with a second panel of nearly 200 jurors reporting to the courthouse to watch a four-hour video of the judge reading the lengthy indictment. With more than a dozen defendants and the state expected to call more than 300 witnesses, that trial could last six to nine months.
Long admitted to the shootings after his arrest and has already been sentenced to four consecutive life sentences, plus 35 years, for killing four people and wounding a fifth at a spa in Cherokee County the afternoon of March 16, 2021.
Xiaojie “Emily” Tan, 49, Daoyou Feng, 44, Delaina Yaun, 33, and Paul Michels, 54, were killed at Youngs Asian Massage near Acworth. A fifth person, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, was injured.
Afterward, Long got in his SUV and drove about 30 miles to Piedmont Road in Atlanta where Yong Ae Yue, 63, Soon Chung Park, 74, Suncha Kim, 69, and Hyun Jung Grant, 51, were shot to death at the Gold Spa and the Aromatherapy Spa, authorities said.
Six of the eight victims killed that day were Asian women. The rampage stunned the nation and galvanized members of metro Atlanta’s Asian American community, prompting widespread condemnation of what many viewed as an apparent hate crime.
Despite his guilty pleas and life sentence for the Cherokee County shootings, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is pursuing the death penalty in the Atlanta case.
She said her to decision to seek the ultimate punishment was made with the “complete support” of the Atlanta victims’ families. In addition, Fulton prosecutors are seeking sentencing enhancements for Long under Georgia’s relatively new hate crimes statute. That law, passed in the wake of Ahmaud Arbery’s murder in coastal Georgia, allows for stiffer punishments for anyone convicted of targeting a victim based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender, mental disability or physical disability.
Long’s attorneys filed a series of motions last year seeking to keep their client off death row. They argued, among other things, that as a 21-year-old, Long’s brain wasn’t completely developed when he allegedly walked into the three spas and opened fire with a gun he had purchased earlier that day.
“Mr. Long’s youth at the time of the offense ... substantially lessens his culpability and a sentence of death would be disproportionate to his diminished moral blameworthiness,” said one motion filed by his defense team.
The four days of motions hearings are tentatively planned for May 8 and 9, and May 15 and 16.
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